story ideas

[045] How to use the media to reinvent your personal brand with Sarah Newton

Ten years ago, youth coach Sarah Newton had her own TV show, book... and national journalists lining up to feature her in their publications and programmes. But the experience left her feeling inauthentic - as if she was an actor playing a character rather than being herself.

Sarah turned away from the media - and her work with young people - for several years. But she has recently made a comeback. And this time round, she's determined to take control of her own media persona. Her tenaciousness has paid off; over the past few months, she's secured coverage in the Guardian, Daily Mail, Huffington Post, Mail on Sunday and a host of regional publication and programmes.

In this episode, she shares her tips and strategies on using the media to reinvent your brand.

Here’s what's covered in this episode:

  • Sarah's business story: from policewoman to youth coach to author & TV personality
  • Why Sarah took a two year break from the media
  • How Sarah has used the media to reinvent her personal brand and promote her new book
  • Why Sarah decided to do her own PR rather than hiring a company/consultant
  • Sarah's tips on getting national coverage - and staying positive when you're getting knockbacks(or being ignored) by journalists

Key resources and links

Sarah's website

Sarah on Twitter 

You can do your own PR with Melanie Haynes (Episode 11)

My next Soulful PR Group Coaching Course which starts in April 2016

My FREE Soulful PR Facebook Community

What to do next

If you enjoyed today’s show, please share it using the social media buttons at the top of this page.

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And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, to get automatic updates every time a new episode goes live.

Would your story idea pass the BBC homepage test?

There’s a story doing the rounds on Facebook at the moment about a guy who’s selling his house because he’s lost his job and can’t afford the upkeep.

Unfortunate, but not that unusual, you might think. Until you see the pictures of the house. It may look pretty unremarkable from the outside, but inside it’s extraordinary. Every single room has been transformed into a different period from history - from a 1950s New Orleans kitchen to a Cambodian treehouse loft.

What makes the story even more extraordinary is that the owner, John Trevillian, has spent over 25 years and £700,000 converting the house, room by room.

But now it’s only worth £350,000.

I mention it because it is exactly the kind of story that makes editors sit up and take notice. It’s unusual and surprising. It has a hero (the owner, John Trevillian), a villain (his employer), an inciting event (getting laid off), a quest (turns out there’s a campaign to save his house)...and well, we’ll have to wait and see what the climax is.*

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 22.36.53

It also has all three elements that make something a compelling read (and also, not uncoincidentally, what editors look for in a story).

Fear (Will John Trevillian lose his house?)

Curiosity (Who is this John Trevillian guy? What kind of person would blow that kind of money on a house?)

'What’s in it for me?’ (Am I in danger of losing my house?)

It also passes the ‘BBC homepage’ test - a quick and easy way to find out whether a story has national potential - or not.

So what is the ‘BBC homepage’ test?

I should start by saying this is a totally made up term (by me), but it’s one I use all the time when I’m delivering pitching and media interview training.

And as I’m always saying writers should ‘show not tell,’ take a look at this screenshot to see what I mean:

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 22.39.19

A quick glance at the headlines for the most read and shared articles on the BBC news homepage (or on the homepage of any news website) tells you everything you need to know about what national editors are looking for.

It’s a common misconception that journalists are only interested in reporting ‘bad’ news. What they’re actually interested is telling stories that will engage their audience - issues they will care about.

From ‘The man who cross-stitched his own bank card’ to ‘Cow poo bus breaks national land speed record’ these stories hint at tension, the unexpected, heroes, villains, quests and dramatic climaxes. They also look promising on the ‘fear, curiosity and what’s in it for me?’ front.

Heroes and villains

I’m not suggesting every story you pitch should be worthy of a ‘most read’ ranking on the BBC homepage. But if you can inject some of the qualities that makes stories popular and shareable (like surprise, drama, tension, heroes and villains and so on) into your pitches, you’ll have a much better chance of success.

And it doesn’t have to be negative. This BBC story challenges the commonly held view that texting is damaging children’s language skills. It offers surprise by turning traditional narrative roles on its head. Texting - typically the villain - is the ‘hero’ in this story.

And this story I wrote for the Guardian about a new mentoring scheme for young people only attracted column inches because it was the only project of its kind for young women and its future was under threat. There was also an element of the unexpected, as highlighted in the opening paragraphs of the article.

Reality Check

You can also use the ‘homepage’ test to see if your ideas have national potential.

For example, could you imagine reading the following headlines on the ‘most read’ section of the BBC homepage (or the homepage of any national publication)?

- Children don’t know how to stroke cats

- Tech start up company appoints new marketing director

- New iPhone app launched to help students choose university

These ideas come from real pitches sent to me over the past few months from people who clearly think these stories have national potential. And while they are extreme examples, when you’re working closely with an organisation or a client (or you’re running your own business), it’s easy to forget that what’s fascinating to you may be of absolutely no interest to a wider audience.

And even if your own news sense is razor sharp, you can use the ‘homepage’ test on colleagues who can’t tell the difference between a national, regional or industry story.

Just asking that question: ‘can you imagine seeing that story on the homepage of X publication?’ (or, better still, showing them the homepage) can be enough to convince colleagues who are clueless about the media.

*For an update on the John Trevillian story read this.